You might remember several months ago I did a post covering some basics on carpet gleaned from a book I read called “All About Carpets: Everything You Need To Know A Consumer Guide” by Glenn Revere.
I am certainly not an expert, so I was pretty excited when Glenn offered to share his ‘expert’ advice on residential carpeting with us, via an article he produced for Home & Design Magazine, content supplied here with his permission. I hope this will add another layer to your understanding of carpet, materials, and its qualities to make informed decisions for your home.
Carpet Talk by Glenn Revere
As everyone knows, there is a lot to talk about when it comes to carpeting: usage, fibers, styles, patterns, etc.
Carpeting is used everywhere we live and work. You’ll find it in most homes, from the most basic cottage to glamorous homes regularly used to entertain many guests. You also see carpet throughout high-rise office buildings, convention centers, airports, and other large commercial installations. This article will focus on residential carpeting. Commercial applications are a separate story.
Carpeting brings quiet and warmth to any setting. Because it is an absorptive fabric, carpet reduces sound levels and makes a noisy room more quiet. Carpet also acts as insulation. It helps keep rooms warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. So carpeted floors are good in any climate.
Many people like carpet throughout their homes. Others want carpet just in certain rooms like bedrooms or a study. It is simply a matter choice. There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to deciding where to install carpeting.
Once you decide it’s time for new carpet, the first thing I suggest you do is set a budget. You should realize that carpeting is advertised like any other merchandise. The prices you see in the ads are generally for the least expensive, lowest quality carpet. It might be good for a guest bedroom, but it certainly won’t hold up in a family room.
Many carpets are made in good- better- best qualities. One style might be sold in different weights or qualities. This way, you can install the same color and pattern in different weights throughout your home, depending on the amount of traffic each area receives. Overall, you’ll save money. You can put the heaviest quality (best) on the stairs and in the family room. The medium quality (better) might go in the hallways, living and dining rooms. And you could put the lightest quality (good) in the bedrooms. It all looks the same to one’s eye, but each area in your home gets the “right” carpet.
So take your time. Get familiar with how your local flooring retailers advertise their goods. Ask your friends if they have any experience with one retailer or another. You’ll also discover that prices are probably best during the spring and fall months.
The second thing most people decide on is the general color scheme of the carpet. Green? Blue? Beige? Color is important when you consider that what’s on your floor will influence the other color choices for that room or your entire home.. It’s like selecting the right dress when you go out. The accessories follow- they are the accent pieces that draw attention to your gown.
The next thing to consider is the fiber. You’ll find that everyone has an opinion about which fiber is the “best”, including me. Every salesperson or designer will tell you something different. It can get very confusing.
Carpet is made using four main types of fiber: wool, nylon, polyester, and a new variation of polyester called Triexa (branded as SmartStrand by Mohawk Industries). (Sisal is a vegetable fiber mostly used in decorative rugs or specialty carpeting. It is not a “general use” fiber and is a topic for another article.) Each has advantages and disadvantages. Choosing the right color is a personal decision- there is no right or wrong. Choosing the right fiber type for your home and lifestyle will determine the performance you receive from your new carpet.
Wool, used in rugs for centuries, is the only natural fiber used in wall to wall carpeting today. The sheep whose wool is used for carpet fiber are special breeds. The characteristics of their wool are different than wool used in clothing. Wool is scarce and therefore expensive. Many retailers don’t show wool carpet samples because it is beyond the budget for many people. It is common to see wool blended with other fibers, such as nylon or acrylic. This way, you still get the characteristics of a wool carpet but the cost is lower.
Wool is soft and luxurious. It wears and cleans well. Its fiber structure hides dirt. It comes in a wide variety of styles and colors. It is hypo-allergenic. It is the fiber to which all the others are compared.
But, in addition to its cost, wool stains easily. Also, it must be made in heavier weights as compared to the synthetic fibers to wear equally as well.
Chemists have formulated synthetic carpet fibers from petroleum for decades. Some of these synthetics did not work well. Nylon was the first commercially successful synthetic carpet fiber. It wore extremely well.
But earlier generations of nylon fiber also stained badly. Chemists spent years figuring out how to make nylon fiber more stain resistant. Stainmaster brand nylon hit the market in the late ’80’s and changed the carpet industry. Suddenly you could put light colors of carpet in heavily used rooms and maintain it much more easily.
Today, virtually all synthetic fibers are stain resistant. (Note: none of these fibers claims to be stain proof). The trend is towards ultra soft fibers.
Besides stain resistance, there are other reasons why nylon fiber has the largest market share of the man-made fibers. Nylon carpet comes in a wide variety of colors and styles. It is very resilient. This means that when you walk on it, the fibers “bounce back”. Nylon is tough- it wears well. Besides resisting stains, it cleans easily. It has low static levels. You can use it in any type of home and anywhere in the home– low traffic rooms, high traffic areas, budget homes, fancy homes.
Polyester (PET) has a great “green” story. Most of the polyester used in carpets is made from recycled bottles. In fact, billions of bottles each year are diverted from landfills, melted, and turned into carpet fiber!
Polyester fiber is dyed while still in a melted state. Called solution dyeing, this process puts the color in the molecular structure of the fiber. Solution dyed fibers are extremely colorfast even in strong sunlight. This fiber is very stain resistant to almost all household spills. It also cleans well. Static is non-existent. Generally, polyester carpet costs less than nylon carpet.
Polyester carpet fiber has a few drawbacks. It does not have the same resilience as nylon. Once badly crushed, it will not “bounce back” like nylon. Furniture marks are much more difficult to remove. Polyester carpets must be made in heavier weights to perform as well as nylon carpet. While water based spills come right out, oil based spills are more difficult to remove. Oily spills tend to reappear and could take several re-cleanings to completely remove the spill.
This fiber took almost twenty years to develop specifically as a carpet fiber. While related to polyester, the Federal Trade Commission recognized it as a unique fiber in 2009. Mohawk markets Triexa fiber under their SmartStrand brand.
Triexa fiber has become very popular in the last few years. It is very stain and fade resistant. It cleans well. It is available in a huge range of colors and styles. And it is as resilient as nylon fiber while generally lower priced. It does have an affinity for oily spills. These spills tend to wick and re-appear if they are not carefully cleaned.
All of these fibers have warranties against wear and stains. But it is up to you to read- and understand- the fine print. You must understand what is covered and what is excluded. Each type of fiber and each brand of carpet has differing warranties. Don’t assume that your new carpet warranty is all inclusive. Otherwise, when a problem arises, you could get a nasty surprise.
One other thing to consider: installation. This is a separate topic. But it is important to realize that a bad installation can make the best carpet unusable. Get detailed information about your carpet installation BEFORE you pay for your carpet. Don’t let the installation become an afterthought.
Once you do your homework, make a final selection, and have the carpet installed, sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor!
Glenn Revere has been a carpet expert since 1973. He’s a certified flooring inspector and the author of All About Carpets, the only book written to protect and inform you about your carpet choices, from carpet buying and carpet warranties to carpet care and maintenance. You can find him on Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.